Lights Out

Anchorage winter operations continue... Tonight, freezing fog. It is an amazing meteorological phenomenon; fog that freezes on everything. We pushed back on schedule with 119 passengers and prepared the aircraft for de-icing/anti-icing. The engines were not running, so the APU (little turbine engine in tail) was supplying electricity and pneumatics. The de-icing truck pulled up to the aircraft and after I spoke with the ice boss on the intercom, they prepared to spray glycol on Fi-Fi. Then, their truck died... No problem Skipper, "We'll be right back. We have another truck."


I picked up the public address handset and was about to relay this information to the passengers when the APU died; no faults, alarms, or warnings. It just quit running... Our world was plunged into darkness and silence. All the Star Trek stuff said "See ya!"

Immediately, looking at the co-pilot, I said, "What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything," he replied. "I didn't touch anything, it just quit!"

The Airbus is a very complex aircraft. Occasionally, it will surprise the pilots with weirdo events that cannot be explained or duplicated. I was hoping this was such an event. The co-pilot configured the aircraft for a battery re-start of the APU. I kept my fingers crossed as he pushed the start button. I watched the battery voltage being pulled down as the APU began it's start sequence. Finally, we could hear the little turbine winding up. When it reached operational rpm, it's connectors closed and flooded the electrical system with power. All the smoke and mirrors came back on line.

Thank you little APU! Welcome back...

The ice boss returned with a working truck with which he made quick work of the freezing fog residue. A few minutes later, with both engines running, we began our taxi through the snow. Before we reached the end of the runway, the visibility plunged to less than 1/4 mile. Our night just kept getting more interesting.

The tower turned the runway lights to maximum intensity as we began our take-off roll. The visuals were surrealistic as the center line lights popped out of the fog ahead of us. We could see two lights ahead of the aircraft, or not much. The thought of moose on the runway flashed through my mind. Yikes! At 170 mph (147 knots) the nose lifted off the runway and all visuals disappeared except for a dazzling reflection of the aircraft lights caused by ice crystals. A few seconds later, we flew out of the top of the fog layer into a clear, black sky peppered with stars.

Two hours and twenty-nine minutes later, we are approaching the half way point.

Fuel on board: 20,000 pounds
Fuel flow: 5,200 pounds per hour
Groundspeed: 560 mph (487 knots)